After they covered five innings in relief of rookie starter Joan Adon in Sunday’s series finale with the San Francisco Giants, the Washington Nationals’ relief corps led all National League clubs with a total of 79 innings pitched by the bullpen. Their 4.10 ERA as a group was tied for the 5th highest amongst NL teams, and their .247 BAA was third-highest.
In the last two weeks, however, their batting average against as a group has dropped to .224 (6th of 15), and the ERA is down to 3.07 (6th as well).
“They’re pitching well, they really are,” manager Davey Martinez said over the past weekend, “and and I’m starting to see them mature and really take ownership on what we talk about, what we’ve been talking about, especially some of the guys that I’ve had here for the last couple years, about attacking the strike zone. They’ve all got good stuff, and when you see them throw strike one, their stuff gets even better, so it’s good to see those guys come out there, [Tanner] Rainey, [Kyle] Finnegan, all those guys, [Steve] Cishek … they’re all throwing the ball really well.”
The Nationals’ relievers finished the series with the Giants in D.C. with a 49% Zone% (Pitches in the strike zone/Total pitches), which was the highest Zone% amongst NL relief corps. Their 62% F-Strike% (First pitch strikes/plate appearances) was 9th of 15. Their 7.6% BB% was actually the third-lowest in the NL, with their 21.7% K% 10th.
“These guys are coming in, they’re throwing strikes, which is great,” Martinez said earlier on the Nationals’ homestand, “... so as long as they continue to throw strikes, I’m confident that they can get outs, and you’ve been seeing that.
“Honestly, we’ve only a few blow-ups this year in the bullpen, and for the most part they have been pretty consistent.”
Martinez had talked often early this season about needing his starters to go deeper into the games, especially with the roster size expected to return to 26 in the next week or so, after teams were allowed to carry 28 coming out of the abbreviated three-week ramp-up to the regular season in Spring Training.
“They’ve been pitching a lot,” Martinez said late on Sunday afternoon, “but we’ve also been taking care of them. There’s been a lot of guys that haven’t gone back-to-back days. Been a lot of guys that have only been out there for two outs, and not come back out, but they got to pitch, we’ve got to use them, because all of a sudden here comes — after May 1st, we’re going to shorten up the bullpen, so if they’re sitting there for a while, then we’ve got another issue.
“Yesterday, we used Finnegan and Rainey just to get them an inning because they didn’t pitch for a few day, but they’re all fine.”
The key to trying to keep his bullpen arms healthy, the fifth-year skipper said, is open and honest communication between the pitchers and the coaching staff.
“We communicate with those guys every single day,” Martinez explained, “and we make sure that they’re all good to go. So, yeah, but it’s unfortunate that our starting pitching is not going deeper in games, but [the relievers] understand their role, and they’re ready, and like I said, based on conversations, and they way we communicate with them, and all the information we get, we know which guys need a day and which guys don’t. Today was just, like I said, it was just a lack of — falling behind, not throwing strikes, walks, so hopefully that’s out of them today, they come back Tuesday and get right back on to what they were doing the previous games.”
There was some good news on that end before last night’s game, as MLB and the MLBPA made a joint announcement that, “as the parties monitor player health, the maximum of 13-pitchers on Active Rosters set to begin on May 2nd will instead go into effect on May 30th; a 14-pitcher maximum will be in place from May 2nd-29th.”
“I don’t know if you guys heard the new rules changes, we are allowed to keep 14 pitchers,” Martinez said in his pregame press conference, “which is kind of nice, until June 1, and then it will go back down to 13. So we’ll have some decisions to make come [June 1st].”
Until then, he’s enjoying the luxury of carrying a couple pitchers who’ve started at times in his bullpen so he has some length with starters still building up after an abbreviated, three-week Spring Training year after MLB and the MLBPA ended a 99-day lockout and agreed to a new CBA.
“Our starting pitchers have not gone deep,” he said, “... having guys who can give us some length is kind of nice if we need it. I saw the Pirates, most of their bullpen guys, except for the back end were all starting pitchers, you know, so to have these guys that can give us multiple innings is kind of nice.”
“It’s actually nice that we have three guys that can give us length, and maybe four, because I still think [Andres] Machado — he tells me every day that he can pitch two or three innings, but that remains to be seen, but yeah, it’s nice to have guys who can do that.”